How should travel publishers use Facebook?

28 Oct

With pretty much everyone in the whole wide world now on Facebook (well, you know what I mean) it's becoming a 'no brainer' for any company with customers to get itself a Facebook presence. Some travel companies are doing cool stuff too - just one example: Visit Wales has over 200,000 fans now and there is stacks going on on their page. [Disclosure: Visit Wales is a company I work with.] So now if the Visit Wales crew pose a question on their wall, they get loads of responses. Truly cool - more on this later.

What about publishers though?
I couldn't find a Daily Mail travel Facebook page - their main Facebook page for the whole paper has just over 9000 fans. The Times & Sunday Times has a combined Facebook page with 24,000 fans and, because of the paywall every time they post a link to one of their features on their Facebook wall unless you are a subscriber you can't read it anyway. There's another page which aggregates all their Twitter feeds which is an interesting idea (actually it's an app). The Sunday Times travel magazine Facebook page has 141 fans. There's actually quite a lot going on there - but it's not working that well with so few fans. Perhaps it's early days? The Telegraph travel team has a Facebook page with 7000 fans. Most of what is on here is an RSS feed synched with when new features are published on their website – although there is some interaction. But if you want to enter the Where in the World comp or leave a Travel Tip (both recent  wall posts) you have to click a link to the website – you can’t enter or leave responses on Facebook. (Well you can, but it doesn’t look like they count.)

Of all the major UK newspapers (well the ones worth reading) only The Guardian has really embraced Facebook - its recently launched app is a genuinely interesting experiment into trying to drive its content deep into Facebook conversations and discussions. Basically you stay within the Facebook environment to read the Guardian's content and when you read something it publishes an update on your Facebook wall telling people so.  That is very smart indeed. (You can control what you share and who with too. But, there is no travel content. I wonder why?

I could go on, but from an admittedly relatively cursory glance, few of the big traditional publishers seem to be really 'getting' Facebook. Compare this with Visit Wales? Why this huge difference? When you think about the huge reach and influence these publications have it doesn’t make sense.

It’s a two-way street
Maybe the problem here is publishers are stuck in publish mode? Facebook and the social web more generally are about interaction, discussion and conversation. Most Facebook pages for UK publishers are being used as just another channel for pumping out their own content. The fact that people can comment, discuss and do all kinds of other stuff like take part in polls or answer questions seems to have been completely forgotten or intentionally ignored. This tendency to push content out rather than listen and interact explains I think why many mainstream newspapers are having significantly more success with twitter which lends itself better to this ‘publish-only’ approach.

So, I wonder if publishers should even bother being on Facebook. If they aren’t making use of all the built-in sharing and discussing functionality, what’s the point?

What would you do if you were running a travel desk at a national newspaper? Would you use Facebook and if so, how?

 

9 Responses to “How should travel publishers use Facebook?”

  1. Steve Keenan 28. Oct, 2011 at 8:40 pm #

    Hi Jeremy,
    Thanks for the mention! Here are some pointers.
    Yes, there is a combined Times and ST page on Facebook which does very well (24,000). I think we've gone way beyond the paywall discussion: this page wthrives and has a lot of feedback, so let's accept that it works.
    There is also an ST Style page on Facebook that has 6,000 followers (facebook.com/sundaytimesstyle) so that's also doing OK thanks, for one section of a paper.
    Yes, the travel Facebook page of the Sunday Times only has 142 followers but it is new-ish and we're playing with it: only the occasional link to a paywall URL.
    We're thinking that it might work best with outtakes of video that don't makes the paywall site, links to the (public) comps and other bits and pieces that are chatty.
    Any other suggestions welcome: as we are listening and engaging, rather than just pumping out links that require £1. And ps: it is a combined site for the travel section and the ST Travel Mag. Plenty more to come

  2. Steve Keenan 28. Oct, 2011 at 8:45 pm #

    PPs: More than 7,000 views in the last month, + 135% for facebook.com/sundaytimestravel - small acorns!

  3. Mike Gerrard 29. Oct, 2011 at 6:20 am #

    Very interesting reading, Jeremy, thanks for this. It's given me some ideas. The link to the Guardian app doesn't work, though.

    • Jeremy Head 30. Oct, 2011 at 8:58 am #

      Hi Mike. Feel free tell more about the thoughts this post inspired! I've fixed the link. Thanks for pointing out
      J

      • Mike Gerrard 30. Oct, 2011 at 9:07 am #

        They were thoughts about stuff that I should be doing as a guidebook writer, and I don't want to give my secrets away!

  4. Kevin May 30. Oct, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    Interesting post...

    Worth remembering that the "fan" concept hasn't been around THAT long, many publishers had group pages beforehand and then switched over to the more dynamic and interactive format.

    Anyway, as a publisher/media brand, we are still working out exactly what to do on http://www.facebook.com/tnooz

    Yes, we have a automated feed of new content, that's easy.

    We post pictures from events we're involved in, use it for announcements, plugging our events and things we're involved in.

    But while the clicks through to articles and pictures are very reasonable (it is a growing source of traffic, but nowhere near the scale of search or Google News) the so-called conversation is pretty low.

    How do we change that? Not sure just yet.

    Brands (media or otherwise) with high engagement, gazillions of fans, etc, in Facebook, probably have a staffer/intern concentrating solely on such efforts across multiple social media channels.

    That's not possible at Tnooz.

    Yes, we can develop widgets, etc, but as any media startup knows, you concentrate on the things that you know are going to work, such as improving things on the main site, rather than constantly experimenting elsewhere, so it's a tricky balance.

    As a B2B publisher, it is worth noting that we see the biggest growth and activity from LinkedIn.

  5. Jeremy Head 31. Oct, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    Hello folks
    Given the sparsity of comments so far I reckon most people are wrestling with this problem a bit?
    @Steve - Facebook seems like the obvious opportunity for you to engage with non-subscribers and, if you were a travel co rather than a media organisation you'd be thinking 'how can we ultimately get people to buy (ie subscribe) as a result of what we do here'? So I think behind the scenes stuff and outtakes are a great idea.
    In theory you'd also host competitions and get debates going and use polls etc. But would the paymasters at News Int get twitchy that you are kind of competing with the paid for content behind the paywall?
    @ Kevin - I wondered if you could use Facebook as the blog/'see inside the world of Tnooz' space? But I guess you really want as much of the chat and engagement and page views going on on the main site where you have the ads that provide you with your revenue?
    I defintely like the way that polls in particular work on Facebook. We've used them to good effect with clients. Ask a question - people respond via the poll mechanism. Use the data this gives you to write a post for your blog or a feature for your website. It's quick and easy and can be genuinely insightful and usually provokes lots of discussion.
    Many of the clients I work with are also using competitions to drive up fan numbers. You have to be a bit careful of the rules of running comps on Facebook, but it can be a really swift way to grow fan numbers. (Basically you have to create an app to do it.)
    I agree with Kevin about resource. You need someone on that page all day, responding, curating, discussing to make it work.
    I think just generally the problem of wanting as much of the chat and discussion to take place on your own web properties (as that's where your ad revenue income stream is) conflicts with Facebook's (usually) far better functionality for fostering discussion and interaction. You almost don't want your Facebook page to be too vibrant! A good example of this problem is the way the Telegraph asks for opinions on Facebook but then tries to push you to have the discussion on its own forum pages rather than there on the Facebook page.
    I wonder if Facebook is the nurturing ground for new readers? Your strategy with it is to create content for say younger readers who aren't likely to be regular Times readers (or Telegraph readers or whatever). Mainstream newspapers used to target students big time with money off vouchers and so on. I imagine this is still something that goes on? Could Facebook be the engine for this kind of activity online?
    The thing that many marketers are really interested in is the data about users that Facebook potentially provides them. Potentially heaps of insights.
    Cheers
    J

  6. Darren Cronian 31. Oct, 2011 at 5:37 pm #

    Interesting post Jeremy. Facebook has always been a tough nut to crack for me and while I haven't looked into this much, I suspect most of the people who have clicked 'like' on FB are also on Twitter.

    For Travel Rants I do start the occassional discussion, post photos of dirty hotels etc. + post up links to blog posts for people to read. I closed the wall from people posting anything because I was recieving so much spam, and well, that isn't very sociable.

    For My Life in Leeds I have gone down a different route. The wall is open for people to post photos, events, deals etc. I do occassionally remove spam if it is off-topic and not useful for my readers. I ask more questions than on Travel Rants, publish videos, lots more photos and it seems more interactive, which I like.

    Considering I have a much bigger audience with Travel Rants, I aren't that far off overtaking Travel Rants as the number of people who 'like' me on FB.

    It is an area that I would like to improve on, but at the moment, I'm not sure that social media really offers me much in the way of a return in the investment of time, as nowadays, time = money.

    Just some thoughts..

  7. Dan Johnson 02. Nov, 2011 at 11:31 am #

    Taking the example of a newspaper that already has a big Facebook presence - The New York Times has more than 1.5m fans on Facebook, plus there is a dedicated travel page with 20,000 fans.

    Both act as contents pages with links to articles on the main news/travel sites and on the NY Times blog.

    The NY Times team don't respond to comments on the Facebook page, but every time a fan comments the post is going to pop up in their own News Feed where their friends can see it too.

    So the NY Times is 1/ pushing their content to existing fans, 2/ getting exposure in front of friends of fans, 3/ focusing on their own site rather than trying to interact with Facebook to.